Aspen Institue Names Partners for Education at Berea College to National Network to Disrupt Poverty for Children and Parents

Berea, KENTUCKY, April 29, 2014 – Partners for Education at Berea College was announced today as a member of the Aspen Institute Ascend Network, a new network of leading organizations using two-generation approaches to disrupt poverty and create economic mobility for families. Partners for Education at Berea College is one of the initial 58 organizations, selected from 24 states and the District of Columbia, that represent the leading edge of a national movement around two-generation approaches. Two-generation approaches look at the whole family’s needs and provide opportunities for children and their parents together.

“These leaders are fueling change for America’s families,” said Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the ‘War on Poverty,’ the Aspen Institute is proud to invest in transformational ideas to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.”

The Aspen Institute identified Partners for Education at Berea College through a highly selective national competition. More than 250 organizations applied to join the Network and receive funding from the Aspen Institute Ascend Fund. “Two-generation programming, where we provide educational opportunities to families and kids, works in our rural Appalachian communities,” said Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education. “I believe it is our best opportunity to disrupt the generational poverty crippling our Appalachian region. We are honored to be a part of the Network and look forward to sharing our strategies and learning from others.”

In the United States today, nearly 45-percent of all children live in low-income families. Almost 25-percent of today’s college students are parents. Yet our education and human services systems have not kept up with the needs of 21st century families. Together, Partners for Education at Berea College and the Ascend Network are redesigning programs and policies to create a legacy of opportunity that passes from one generation to the next.

See the complete list of Ascend Network members at Visit and follow @BereaPartners and @aspenascend for more information.

Partners for Education at Berea College provides educational programming to children, families and schools to achieve the result – All Appalachian Kentucky youth succeed in school.

Pictures of the event below. (click to enlarge)

Families visit Berea College’s campus to learn about college and career success.
Partners for Education family engagement specialists answer families’ questions about authentic family engagement.
Families attend workshops and presentations to help plan their children’s future.
Partners for Education staff consult with families about academic and financial planning.
Families learn firsthand what college is like by meeting with professors in college classrooms.
Families hear from professors what they expect from college students, and what can help them prepare for college.
Berea College students lead families on campus tours.
Berea College students describe their experiences for families, telling them what a typical day in their life is like.
Families meet for dinner and quality time as part of Partners for Education’s Families and Schools Together, or FAST, program.
Families that attend the FAST program have dinner and then sit together for Family Time.
FAST families do fun activities together.
Families graduate from the FAST program and stay in touch with one another through Partners for Education leadership programs.
Partners for Education families attend special events to celebrate Appalachian Kentucky youth school success.

Gov. Beshear, Lt. Gov. Abramson Urge Kentuckians to Apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit

More than 400,000 Kentuckians are eligible for tax refund

A result Berea’s collaborative approach was the decision by Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear to hold a press conference at the Partners for Education home office, highlighting the efforts of the Kentucky Asset Success Initiative (KASI), which is dedicated to increasing individual access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable federal tax credit for low and middle-income working families and individuals. In 2013, Partners for Education became the convening agency for the Eastern Kentucky Asset Building Coalition, a KASI partner. Other KASI partners include the IRS, the United Way of Kentucky, Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, Community Action Kentucky, Department of Revenue, AARP Tax Aide, Central Kentucky Economic Empowerment Project, Louisville Asset Building Coalition, Green River Asset Building Coalition, Barren River Asset Building Coalition, Northern Kentucky Asset Building Coalition, Northeast Kentucky Asset Building Coalition and the Purchase Area Asset Building Coalition.

It was during the press conference that was held on January 31, 2014 that Governor Beshear discussed the impact the EITC can have on individual families and on our communities and emphasized that the impact is significant and quantifiable. In 2013, 401,000 Kentuckians applied for the EITC and received an average credit of $2,299. Beshear noted that “97-percent of the money returned to our families because of this credit is spent right back in our communities. It is spent with our local businesses for food, for shelter, for clothing, for transportation.”

Lacy Adams, who has volunteered with KASI to help others complete the paperwork for the EITC, spoke of the great impact the extra money can have on a working class family: “I have prepared many tax returns over the four years I have participated in the VITA [Volunteer Income Tax Assistance] program, and I can tell you that this program changes lives. I had one client tell me they had been diagnosed with cancer in the previous year, and the money could be spent for their medical expenses or to file their taxes. Other clients are so grateful for the refund they will receive because they can now afford to fix the roof that is leaking or the porch that has fallen in.” In other cases, the EITC money can be the difference between taking a part-time class at a local community college or technical school.

Partners for Education Senior Budget Analyst, Tracy Featherly, stated that, “The goal of the VITA program is to provide families with opportunities for economic empowerment by helping them to avoid high preparation fees while providing financial education and asset building opportunities,” said Tracy Featherly, Berea College VITA site coordinator. “In my experience, most eligible families are unaware of the beneficial programs that VITA offers, so it is important for us to develop our outreach to more families that really need these services.”

“Informing Eastern Kentuckians about the EITC is especially important because many counties in the region have low per capita income rates and thus have thousands of eligible EITC recipients,” said Gov. Beshear. “Thank you to Berea College and all the members of the EKABC for their leadership and efforts in spreading the word about this valuable tax credit.”

Pictures of the event below. (click to enlarge)

Lyle Roelofs, Berea College’s President, presents Governor Beshear with a Partners for Education plaque.
Governor Steve Beshear and Berea College President Lyle Roelofs
Terri Sarvis, Senior Relationship Manager for Kentucky from the Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication (SPEC) Division of IRS.
Lacy Adams
Dreama Gentry, Executive Director Partners for Education.
President Lyle Roelofs (standing) makes his opening remarks and introduction of Governor Steve Beshear (sitting)
(From L to R) Rita Smart, Kentucky State Representative, Madison County Judge Executive Kent Clark (Middle), Berea Mayor Steve Connelly
Governor Steve Beshear
Berea College President, Lyle Roelofs, Governor Steve Beshear, Partners for Education Executive Director, Dreama Gentry
Robin Keith, Family Engagement Specialist for Partners for Education, speaks about being a 2013 VITA recipient.
Berea College President, Lyle Roelofs, Governor Steve Beshear


Greetings from the Berea College Partners for Education office of Family Partnership. I am L. Rochelle Garrett, the director of the Family Partnership programs. We are so excited to have this chance to share information here about our family focused programs that you can expect to take place in your community. Some of you may already know about our programs, like Families and Schools Together (also known as F.A.S.T.), Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (GCIPL), and our family information and empowerment workshops where you can earn stipends for your participation. We will also have Grace McKenzie introduce herself, as our Associate Director, and share some information about our community tax preparation sites.

Parents, Grandparents, Guardians, Foster families, Relatives raising relatives, everyone that is Family to the child in our cohort are invited to participate in our programs! You can learn more about them by contacting the family Engagement Specialists in your child’s school.

Keep watching this page for more updates, and programs as they launch. Feel free to submit questions or explore the resources we have listed on our page. Welcome to Family Partnership! We are glad to be on your team!!!

WYMT Coverage of Secretary of Education Visit

Check out WYMT’s story about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his visit to our Promise Neighborhood!

For more info. about Promise Neighborhood, check out our program page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Online Mentors Ready To Rave About College

Online Mentors Papers

A group of Berea College students spent their Saturday afternoon preparing to serve as mentors for middle and high school students in GEAR UP schools that are miles away from Berea’s campus. The mentors have a plan to reach the students despite the distance—Skype.

Paula Wilder, associate director for Partners for Education at Berea College, prepared the eleven college students for a Skype-mentoring program called Readiness Achievement in a Virtual Environment, or RAVE. Wilder showed these future mentors how to set up a Skype account and instructed them on what to expect when they start mentoring the 8th and 9th graders.

Online Mentors Wide Class

The program is a product of Wilder’s observations from working with Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership. She noticed the difficulty in recruiting community members and how mentors and students’ availability was one of the biggest challenges to the mentoring program. “So I started thinking, and I thought that if we started a virtual mentoring program, it would eliminate some of those obstacles in terms of money, and transportation, and logistical issues that went on in the schools,” Wilder said.

Online Mentors Teaching

Zunilda Lynch, a College Preparation Assistant for GEAR UP, instructed the students on the ins-and-outs of Skype. She started off by showing the mentors where and how to create their Skype account and what specifics they needed to know, such as the format of their usernames.

Next, Wilder and Missy Wilkins, program director for College for Every Student, talked with the mentors about the Confidentiality Agreement Form. The instructors explained the importance of following the contract. “When you’ve got a mentee that’s in 8th grade and they are communicating with a college student, they may press some issues, maybe ask inappropriate questions,” Wilder said. “I haven’t seen that a lot, but I just want to cover the basics just in case any of [the mentors] have to deal with something like that.”

Wilder then educated the future mentors about what they should expect from the mentees in the next month or so. Wilder has carefully designed the first few weeks so that both the mentors and the students feel comfortable getting to know each other. Beyond this initial schedule, the mentors will decide how to spend the thirty minutes allotted to them and their students. Wilder believes the power of mentoring is in its simplicity. “It’s an older caring adult basically developing a friendship with a younger person,” she said.

RAVE hopes to help all of the students achieve readiness for college and is always looking for new mentors. The program has about five-thousand students who need mentoring and each one is required to receive a thirty-minute session of mentoring every two weeks, and as Wilder said, “That’s a pretty big challenge.”

To find out more about RAVE, contact Paula Wilder at (859) 985-3286 or

Clark-Moores Middle School Cultural Night


Countries from around the world filled the gym at Clark-Moores Middle School on the evening of March 5 for the school’s Cultural Night. Faculty, students and their families from CMMS, along with some students from Berea College, arrived early to set up booths that represented their home countries. Japan, Korea, Kenya, Iraq and Ireland were among the 15 countries represented.

The night began with Mexican and Chinese food served in the school’s cafeteria. Outside was a table full of desserts, like rice pudding from India, a form of donuts called Mandazi from Kenya, sushi from Japan, banana bread from Guatemala, scones from England, trifle from Finland and Costa Rican smoothies.


At any time during the event, family members could sign up for items in the Silent Auction. PeaceCraft, a shop selling Fair Trade merchandise from around the developing world, provided many of the items in the Silent Auction. Participants wrote their names and how much they would be willing to pay for an item they liked on the auction sheet. Whoever would be willing to pay the most for an item could buy it at the end of the night. All proceeds from the Silent Auction and the dessert table went to the Prince of Peace Home for Girls in San Cristobal, Guatemala.

After dinner, CMMS students and family members performed dances in front of the cafeteria, beginning with a choreographed routine to the song “Waka Waka (Time for Africa).” Contra dancers followed this show, clapping and spinning to traditional Appalachian music. Young cloggers between the ages of two and seven then danced to the popular song “Gangnam Style.” Older and more experienced cloggers continued the show, dancing to the song “Party Rock Anthem.”


Between 6:30 and 7p.m., a bellydancing group called “Jewels of the Nile,” gave lessons in the cafeteria. Heather Green, one of the group members, explained that “Bellydance comes from Middle Eastern Dance and it’s a tradition that’s thousands of years old. It’s a way for females of the society to get together, let their hair down and just relax and have a good time with each other.” The group then offered lessons for tribal style bellydancing. “Tribal bellydance is a lot more technical. You’re actually focusing on the moves, and in other forms of bellydance you focus on the moves too, but with tribal it’s a lot less actual aerobic movement and it’s more stationary, isolating one part of your body and doing something with that,” said Jasmine Rutherford, another member of the group and a 4th-grade teacher.


Between dances, students were encouraged to explore the 15 booths in the gym that represented different countries. Students got their “Passport” packets signed by country representatives once they felt the student had learned enough about their country to earn the signature. If a student had a signature from every booth they were entered for a chance to win a prize. “The kids were very interested,” said Solomon Tesfamichael, a Berea College sophomore who was in charge of the booth that represented Eritrea, a country from East Africa. “I showed them the animals and culture, and I asked them about geographical locations like ‘Where is Africa?’ The atmosphere of that event was excellent.”


Some students were not excited to visit every country, as Mohammad Jaber, another Berea College sophomore, discovered. He was in charge of the booth that represented Iraq, and many students who approached him only knew about the war. He used this opportunity to teach about Iraq’s culture and history, but one talk with an eight-year-old girl stood out among the others. “I asked her, ‘Do you want to know anything about Iraq today?’ She said, ‘No, I know everything about Iraq.’ In the beginning she kind of refused to listen,” Jaber said. “Her brother worked in the military and told her all the bad stuff about the war and the death.” Jaber asked for two minutes of her time so he could show her more about Iraq. The two minutes turned into five or six. “I’m happy that she wanted to listen and she did, because I was able to change her mind.” At the end, this little girl got her Passport signed by Jaber and, like many other students, walked away with a fuller understanding of another country.

The Cultural Night ended with a bang, literally, as students lined up for their turn to hit a Piñata. Afterwards, the students gathered their candy, crafts, and any items bought in the Silent Auction and headed home with a new appreciation for other cultures.

CMMS Culture Night Photo Gallery



Berea Community Middle School eighth-graders got a lesson in growing up on March 5 when they participated in “The Reality Store” in their school’s gymnasium. The activity challenged each student to pay bills using a salary chosen at random. The experience helped the students learn about the financial obligations they could face as they become adults. Eighth-graders were presented with financial options and resources they could have as they chose certain career paths based on their education level and tried to raise a family. Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership, Madison County businesses and youth leadership programs helped coordinate the event.

According to eighth-grader Daniel Jacobs, students gained a sense of the financial future they could face in adulthood. “I like the fact that we were presented with this financial reality at a young age to better prepare us for the future.”


There were several contributors that made the Reality Store a reality. The Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky River Foothills Youth Investment Project, Madison County financial businesses such as Central Bank and Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership all had a hand in the event. Nadia Karkenny, GEAR UP College Preparation Assistant said, “As adults, some people waste a lot of money because they don’t know how to save. This Reality Store is a great financial resource that gives these students guidance.”

The bank booth was the students’ first stop. There they picked up a pamphlet that explained that they were now 28-years-old, married and needed to provide for a family with between one and six children. Each student was then given a randomly assigned grade point average. The GPAs corresponded to jobs on the Reality Store chart, with higher GPAs leading to higher paying jobs. Each job gave the student a monthly income, after taxes. The income then went into the student’s checking account.

Balancing their checkbooks was key to managing their finances, as the students spent their money. The eighth-graders’ goals were to provide for needs first, wants second and spend less than they earned.

If the students got stuck or had any questions, they could visit the financial coach booth. The financial coach would look at their income and expenses and explain some choices they could make to complete their day successfully.


The chance booth allowed the students to get out of debt by picking from a glass bowl full of colorful slips of paper that represented extra money. Some of the extra money was in the form of lottery winnings, a raise at work or insurance money gained from a car accident.

Other booths focused on housing and utilities, health and car insurance, paying for groceries, putting children in childcare, buying clothes for the family and paying for communication devices such as cell phones and internet service.

The rewards table gave students recognition for improving their financial literacy. One treat was a Dum Dum candy with a sign attached that read, “Congratulations, you are not a Financial Dum Dum.”


Facilitators of the event realized it had a big influence on the eighth-graders when the students began to form their own opinions about the importance of making smart financial choices. Charlotte Haycraft, Berea Community Middle School GEAR UP Academic Specialist, said, “I did not see the impact of these booths until I saw the choices the students were making. The students began to understand how their financial choices, career paths, and education levels could affect a marriage and family. Overall, I thought this event was very impactful.”

Berea Community Middle School Reality Store Gallery

Promise Neighborhood Artist Shares Appalachian Culture and Tradition with Hacker Elementary Students

Carla Gover was excited to work for three Fridays: Feb. 8th, Feb. 15th, and Feb. 22nd from 8:00am until 2:00 pm with K-6students at Hacker Elementary to teach them about Appalachian culture and tradition.


Gover is an artist with the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative. A Kentucky-native, singer, songwriter, and dancer, she travels the United States and takes pride in sharing her Appalachian culture with others. Gover has performed for literally thousands of elementary, middle and high school students worldwide. She credits her passion and knowledge to both her family and local communities in Clay and Letcher counties. “Every child here at Hacker (K-6th) was born in the Appalachian region, says Academic Specialist of Hacker Elementary Christy Napier.”

In order to tie in with Hacker Elementary core standards and program review curriculum, her objective was to help students look at some of the different cultures that came together to create the Appalachian culture and help students positively define what it means to be from KY.“I seek to be a voice speaking of the beauty and dignity of Appalachian culture in a world filled with stereotypes, half-truths, and outright lies about what it means to be from the region, says Gover.

Gover enjoyed her three-day adventure with the students because she loved teaching them about Appalachian culture through verbal stories, song, and dance. Ms. Grover sang traditional ballads and songs while playing the banjo or guitar, and explained the history of the instruments and the dances that were created with them.

The students happily got on their feet and participated in some engaging Appalachian dances that included: Appalachian clogging/Flatfooting, Cherokee Dance of the Four Directions, African-American Hamboning Rhythms, and the Traditional KY Square Dance.

Sixth grader Holly Couch said, “I really liked it. I learned what clogging is and a lot of new traditional songs and dances from KY. I really enjoyed her singing too.” During this event students learned a lot about their Appalachian culture and how important it is to keep their heritage alive. Clara Gover is coming back to work in two other schools in Clay County in the near future.

Berea Community Middle School Students Prepare for Future at College and Career-Readiness Fair


Speakers from all over Richmond and Berea visited Berea Community Middle School eighth-graders to talk about college and career-readiness on February 15. They spoke about how succeeding in school now can prepare students for college and ultimately their careers.

Academic and career dreaming began in the morning, as part of the career portion of the College and Career Readiness Fair. Speakers gave the middle school students informative talks, describing a day in their lives, their careers and what it takes to get there.


Kentucky State Trooper Toby Coyle answered questions the students had about his career and demonstrated how a taser works, which fascinated students. Lindsay Bruner, a vegan marketing specialist, helped students create nutritional green smoothies using pineapples and spinach. Bruner also explained the importance of being healthy and talked about her career path. Madison County EMS and Physical Therapist Lorah Shackleford demonstrated how a defibrillator works by electric shock. She then took students through a typical day in her career.

In the afternoon, college-readiness sessions were held in ten classrooms where speakers focused on how students can get into certain careers. Students were divided into rooms by their career interests, and learned what they need to do in the classroom to prepare for their dream career.


Thirty students who wanted to become college athletes met a quarterback for the EKU football team, Jared McClain, and the midfielder for the EKU soccer team, Tess Akgunduz. “I am doing everything I can now to get onto a professional team,” said McClain. “But in case that doesn’t happen, I am working hard in the classroom to ensure that I will get a degree and a good job.”

Another room was all about volunteering, as Heather Schill from Berea College’s Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS) office spoke to thirty-five students about why volunteering is important to be a good citizen. Charlotte Haycraft, GEAR UP Academic Specialist at Berea Community School and coordinator of College and Career Readiness Day, agreed. “Volunteering is one of our focuses here at Berea Community School.”


Seth Henderson, graduate of Berea Community School and a first-generation college student, explained that making good grades in middle and high school opened college opportunities. Henderson admitted that he was not a very strong student in middle school, but he learned what it takes to be successful. He explained his process to students and answered their questions about achieving success for themselves.

Henderson’s talk was titled, “If Someone Had Told Me in Middle School.” He wished people in middle school told him that, “regardless of who you are, don’t think because of financial circumstances you can’t go to college.”

Haycraft moved from room to room, watching her students learn from the presenters. “These ten rooms are trying to inform us and get us college-ready,” she said. “To me, this is the most important part of the day. Too often we have career days and students leave thinking, ‘I could never get that career.’ What is happening in these ten rooms is offering them hope, and a reality of how they can achieve what they saw.”

Berea Community Middle School College and Career Fair Photo Gallery

Clark-Moores Students Connect with Their Community


Volunteers from organizations around Richmond traveled to Clark-Moores Middle School on the morning of Friday, January 11 for Community Service Day. The volunteers shared with students their experiences, goals, and helpful advice. The students had been busy all week preparing for the event, learning how they can help their community by dressing in professional attire like khaki pants, tucked in t-shirts and belts and visiting local nursing homes. They also participated in a food drive by collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House.


When the event began, students were split into groups to talk to each volunteer. Periodically, an announcement to switch classrooms rang through the speakers, signaling for students to move on to activities like making crafts for a cause, packing boxes full of essentials for the needy, cleaning the school bleachers, or learning the history of well-known groups like the American Red Cross.

“I felt like it was a very positive activity for our students,” said Stacy Brockman, GEAR UP Academic Specialist at Clark-Moores and coordinator of the event. “They were really engaged and learned about charitable organizations in our community, state and the world.”


Before the event, students also decorated hearts for 26 Acts of Kindness, a movement that honors the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. The students wrote on each heart an act of kindness they witnessed or performed. The best hearts were chosen to be part of the 26 hung on the wall for Community Service Day.

The event was sponsored by Berea College’s GEAR UP partnership. Berea College and 19 school districts from southeastern Kentucky work together to ensure that every student becomes college and career ready.

Organizations that participated in Community Service Day included the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Richmond Fire Department’s Toys for Kids program, the Humane Society, the Ty Lucas Foundation, Hope’s Wings, Grace Now, Habitat for Humanity, Prince of Peace Orphanage in Guatemala and the Pregnancy Help Center.

The event allowed students at Clark-Moores Middle School to engage in community service and learn how to continue to do so in the future. “The feedback from our students has been exciting,” Brockman said.

MLK March Helps KCC Members Move Their Feet for Peace

More than 100 people participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March that began at Union Church on January 21. Berea community members, Berea College students and staff, Kentucky College Coaches, KCC Junior volunteers, and parents with their children were among the participants who gathered at 9:30 a.m. to celebrate the memory of the civil rights leader.


Rev. Gail E. Bowman, Director of Berea College’s Campus Christian Center and College Chaplain, spoke about the importance of marching and being passionate about freedom. “We march because Dr. King had a marching tradition, we march because the city of Berea has a marching tradition, we march because we have a right and it is right to march,” she said.  “We must march because we want to be peace on feet.”

The marchers included 15 children who were prepared and motivated to participate after prepping for it the day before with the help of Kentucky College Coach staff members and junior volunteers. The team met with the children at the Ecovillage, an ecologically sustainable residential and learning complex for Berea College students with families. The facility also houses a childcare center for campus children and provides labor opportunities for students interested in sustainability.

Volunteers worked with the children to create banners and posters for the march that were decorated with colorful handprints and thought bubbles that represented the children’s dreams of the future. KCC staff member Ismaila Ceesay recognized that it was important for the four junior volunteers to learn how to build community through service by helping others.

“The KCC students participated because part of coaching students to get into college includes showing them other areas, other than academics, that can help them,” said Ceesay.  “Volunteerism is one of these tangibles and the students decided to use the MLK event as an opportunity to serve their community by being contributing members of their community, learning other skills like mentoring, organizing an event, and just simple responsibility.”

Ceesay said the Ecovillage has a history of participating in the MLK Day marches, and that the children who continued this tradition enjoyed it. “The children loved making their own flags at the Sunday MLK event prep, and they loved marching with the adults because they know marching towards equality is an important event,” he said.


The Ecovillage children’s parents walked alongside them, holding the banner, displaying a heart, the handprints of their children, and a caption that read “United With Love.”   “The parents like marching in this event because it is a teaching opportunity for them,” Ceesay said. “Their willingness to help their children read stories about MLK prompts questions from the kids about MLK and civil rights, which is the whole point.”

Ceesay pointed out that the junior volunteers learned from the event, too. “They were hopefully infected with the volunteerism bug!” he said.

MLK March Photo Gallery

Mentors Help Madison County Students Prepare for College

Community mentors, educators and students gathered at Berea College on January 28 to reflect on the mentoring program that began this fall at Berea Community and Madison County middle schools. The mentoring program is a collaboration between Berea College’s GEAR UP partnership and the national organization College For Every Student (CFES).

When GEAR UP students in Madison County enter the eighth grade, they become Berea College CFES Scholars and are matched with a mentor. They meet during school twice a month and talk about classes, careers, the transition to high school and preparing for college.

Missy Wilkins, CFES Director of Mentoring, spoke at the lunch at Berea. “We’ve always known about mentoring increasing grades and attendance and improving students’ relationships with their parents. Some of the newest research coming out shows that mentoring helps students communicate with and have better relationships with their teachers.”

The eighth grade mentees that attended the lunch talked about their relationships with their mentors.  One student said, “I feel like I can go to my mentor if I have a problem during school. I can tell her anything.”  Another student with an interest in art said, “my mentor is an awesome drawer. In the last session, we drew ornaments and she taught us how to shade.”

Community artist and mentor Laurie Robie also uses her experience in the arts to connect with her students. “I like to share things I like to do with my mentees if they also like to do them. Last week they decided they wanted to work with polymer clay, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Other mentors and students spoke about connecting through sports, reading, cooking and conversation.  GEAR UP Coordinator Paula Wilder said, “I see mentors often do activities with mentees that promote critical thinking about college. Together, they research college scholarships, talk about ACT scores, fill out mock college applications and research potential colleges.”
GEAR UP students begin mentoring in the eighth grade to build the kind of support system they need to prepare for college. Missy Wilkins reminded mentors, “one of the great things a mentor does is to hold up a dream for a young person until they are able to hold up that dream for themselves.”

For more information about mentoring opportunities in Madison County, contact Paula Wilder at

Families and Schools Come Together at Big Creek Elementary in Perry County

More than fifty family members, school administrators, community volunteers and GEAR UP staff members came together on December 13 to celebrate the first Families and Schools Together (FAST) graduation in Perry County.

FAST is an international program that works to bring families, community members and school personnel together to support children in schools. The program began in Perry County in July, when local GEAR UP staff organized a team of parents, community volunteers and school staff. Since October, thirteen families met weekly to eat dinner and participate in activities designed to build family time and support children.

Jonathan Jett, the interim superintendent for Perry County schools, spoke glowingly about the program. “The best way to improve [school culture] is to involve parents and get them into the schools…just the turnout here for a small school is overwhelming.”

FAST is unique because it involves the whole family. The program organizers know that it’s easier for parents to come to the school if they can bring children, grandparents and anyone else who lives in their home. An evening at FAST includes dinner, family time and time for parents to talk with each other while children and teens participate in other activities.

Lola Taylor, a parent and a teacher at Big Creek, explained how FAST helped her. “They would also pair us up with other parents, and we got to discuss various topics,” she said.  “It’s really helped me because I always saw a teacher’s standpoint and now I got to be a parent. I miss those times of enjoying my daughter without all the other stuff we have to do.”

The GEAR UP program, sponsored by Berea College, works in seventeen southern and eastern Kentucky counties, partnering with school districts and programs like FAST to make sure children are college- and career-ready. Research shows that parents can make a large, positive impact in their children’s high school and college success if they lay strong foundations in elementary and middle school.  Big Creek Elementary piloted the first FAST program in the nation with special activities targeted at raising the success of fourth- and fifth-grade students.

After the intensive eight-week program, families continue to meet and develop community service projects. In addition, there are plans to expand the FAST program to other schools in Perry, Breathitt and Leslie counties.  If you are a parent, community member or school staff member interested in working with FAST locally, call Hazard-based Parent Engagement Specialist Angie Hampton at 606-634-7416 or email


Jackson County grandparents attended a day-long, “Grandparents as Parents” event hosted by the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative at the Jackson County Extension Office on October 23.  The event focused on helping them understand their rights, custody standing, and legal guardianship status, with special instruction in understanding children’s development and dealing with children coming from substance abuse.  Grandparents asked questions and discussed challenges they faced as primary caregivers.  The event also gave grandparents information regarding adolescent behavior and how to provide positive intervention for difficult transitions children may face.

The goal of this and future events is to provide care for the caregiver.  Linda Potter, Parent Engagement Specialist for Jackson County, and community partners wanted to make sure these grandparents know how appreciated they are for stepping up to care for their grandchildren. Family Court Judge Gene Clark noted just how much difference grandparents make. “If it were not for grandparents,” he said, “my court system might shut down.  These kids have to go somewhere, and if the grandparents or other family does not step up, or are unable and unwilling to take care of them, they’re going to have to go to foster care….and quite frankly all of my foster care beds are full.”  He said that providing help to these grandparents is essential to benefit the next generation of children who, through parental substance abuse or other reasons, have no one to take care of them except these family members.

Other presenters at the event included Carole Gnatuk, a child development specialist from the University of Kentucky; Doug Burnham, director of the Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children Training Project; Kimberley Collett, supervisor at the Department for Community Based Services; Linda Potter, Parent Engagement Specialist for Promise Neighborhood; and Neal Broadus, Dropout Prevention/Parent Involvement Coordinator for the Jackson County Public Schools.

Future monthly or bi-monthly group meetings will continue to provide assistance to grandparents raising their grandchildren.   In these meetings they can share their experiences as well as receive legal advice regarding custody, adoption and foster parent issues.  For more information about future meetings and topics contact Linda Potter at (606) 287-7505 or

JCMS Student Takes Art Classes, Wins Contest

Local art classes provided an opportunity for Jackson County parents and students to bond, and it helped produce an art contest winner. In August, oil painting classes were held at Jackson County Middle School and McKee Elementary. After their artwork was created, participants were encouraged to enter their paintings in the local Jackson County Homecoming Fair and art contest.

Jackson County artist Wonda Hammons taught the art classes, which were sponsored by the Berea College Promise Neighborhood Initiative. Twenty parents and twenty students at each of the schools participated. Students and parents, in groups of two, attended a two-hour class each week for a four-week span, where every attendee created an original piece of art.

Aaron Bowles poses with his prize-winning artwork.

Beautiful works of art by parents and students were then displayed at the art contest at the Jackson County FairTen-year-old JCMS student Aaron Bowles won first place and best in show for his oil painting of an elaborate ocean scene displayed at the art exhibit. Aaron received two ribbons and was very proud of his accomplishments, but even more proud was Aaron’s mother, Melissa Wilson. Aaron and his mother, along with other parents and students of JCMS, enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to be involved in these wonderful art classes and exhibits.

Participants will have the opportunity to visit the Kentucky Artisan Center in December to see Kentucky’s outstanding artisan products and listen to guest speakers from different institutions explain the options available to anyone interested in a degree in art.

The goals of these art projects are to bring families together, celebrate relationships, succeed in creating a unique piece of artwork, and emphasize the importance of college preparation and educational career choices. The Promise Neighborhood Initiative is planning future classes, too. A new class is beginning at Sand Gap Elementary, and classes will begin at Tyner Elementary, Jackson County High School and Annville Christian Academy in February or March. There will be four sessions per school and at least one session per month for up to twenty-four months. Promise Neighborhood will cover all costs for materials and instruction, with no cost to participants.